By Brendan Boyle
It began, as these things so often do, over a bottle of wine after work.
The political scene looked pretty dismal in the wake of a recent party conference and there seemed to be nothing really special to look forward to for a while.
We fell to reminiscing about holidays we had taken together sailing in Greece, barging in France and camping in Namibia and Botswana.
By the time the pizza platters had been cleared and the second bottle flattened, we had agreed to explore Tuscany on genuine Vespa scooters. And so we shall.
Wyndham is a colleague of mine in the Press Gallery of the South African Parliament, his wife, Lize’t runs a marketing team and my 18-year-old son, Jed, is a soccer fanatic in the first year of a business degree at the University of Cape Town.
Lize’t's condition for signing on was that we would spend a few days in Rome first. Mine was to add Venice, which I have never seen, to the itinerary.
Jed went ahead, via London, Amsterdam and Barcelona, but the workers wrapped up today and we fly to Rome tomorrow to begin our VespaVenture.
Wyndham and I have owned several Vespas over the years and now bike to work most days on BMWs as old as Jed, but Jed and Lize’t had to get bike licences and did.
The test was tough and would have been impossible without Vespa’s preparatory programme, which tells you what to expect. But the biggest challenge actually was to get a test appointment as more and more people dump cars for the freedom and efficiency of two wheels.
We ended up driving to the farming town of Malmesbury, about an hour north of Cape Town, to book a test, back to do the test and back again to collect the licences. But it’s done and the Malmesbury traffic officials were kind and efficient.
We have been passing a no-name brand scooter around between us these past few months for the newbies to get the hang of it and for the older hands to get used to little wheels again.
Now, after some foot slogging in Rome, we take a train to Pontedera, the Vespa HQ near Pisa, (see picture – complements of Google Earth – with the Vespa test track on the left) on Thursday to collect four shiny scooters from Piaggio and set off on a largely unplanned two weeks of exploring.
Jed and Lize’t will be riding 125s, which means we will not be allowed on the highways and that’s just fine. It also means they did not really need full bike licences because Italy allows you to ride up to 149cc on a car licence, but they’re glad they did.
We’re hoping to test some of the Vespa myths in the Piaggio museum and will report back.
For the rest it will be riding the legend on it’s home turf.
And you can follow us on Twitter at @VespaVenture.
I always find it quite funny to see Vespa being portrayed as super-cool and retro. I spent quite a bit of time in India and this type of two-wheeler, as they would call it, currently scoops the lower end of the market.
I guess you don’t see many of them floating around Johannesburg though – and not in Italy either by the sounds of it Must have been fun!
Yeah, that would be the Bajaj Chetak, am I right? Funny thing is, older Vespas are commonly used in South Africa as messenger bikes, delivering documents and prescriptions and the like. Real little workhorses, with a big topbox.
Hope you enjoy Brendan’s VespaVenture diaries.